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What If?

The World's Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been

Paperback (416 pages), kindle
Armchair quarterbacking in hindsight. Pointless? Fruitless? Perhaps. But when played well, the "what if" game can be very eye opening.

What If?

With its in-depth reflections on the monumental events of the past, this amazing book of essays ponders what might have been if things had gone differently in history. Featuring Stephen J. Ambrose, John Keegan, and many others.

Counterfactuals -- what-if scenarios -- fueled countless bull sessions in smoke-filled dorm rooms in the 1960s. What if Sitting Bull had had a machine gun at Little Big Horn? What if Attila the Hun had had a time machine? What if Columbus had landed in India after all? Some of those dorm-room speculators grew up to be historians, and their generation (along with a few younger and older scholars) makes a strong showing in this anthology of essays, in which the what-ifs are substantially more plausible...

  • What if Hitler had not attacked Russia when he did? He might have moved into the Middle East and secured the oil supplies the Third Reich so badly needed, helping it retain its power in Europe.
  • What if D-Day had been a failure? The Soviet Union might have controlled all of Europe.
  • What if Sennacherib had pressed the siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.? Then the nascent, monotheistic Jewish religion might never have taken hold among the people of Judah -- and the daughter religions of Christianity and Islam would never have been born.

So suggest some of the many first-rate contributors to this collection, which grew from a special issue of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History. One of them is classicist Josiah Ober, who suggests that if Alexander the Great had died at the age of 21 instead of 32, Greece would have been swallowed up by Persia and Rome, and the modern Western world would have a much different sensibility--and probably little idea of democratic government. Still other contributors are Stephen E. Ambrose, Caleb Carr, John Keegan, David McCullough, and James McPherson, who examine a range of scenarios populated by dozens of historical figures, including Sir Walter Raleigh, Chiang Kai-shek, Robert E. Lee, Benito Mussolini, and Themistocles. The result is a fascinating exercise in historical speculation, one that emphasizes the importance of accident and of roads not taken in the evolution of human societies across time. --Gregory McNamee

World War II in hindsight...

Hindsight, of course, is always 20-20 and playing "armchair quarterback" after the game can never alter the past, but the urge to do so is alluring, even fun..

There were many turning points in World War II, such as the Allied victory in the Battle of Midway. But even if that battle had not unfolded as it did, the industrial might of the US would have eventually prevailed against Japan and the turning point in the Pacific would have occurred elsewhere and else-when. The same can be said for most any event or battle in the war.

However, two dates in particular could have done a lot more than merely alter the duration of the war, but could have changed things so completely as to have produced a different outcome, and thus altered the world in which we live today...

  • 26 Feb 36: Japanese socialist junior Army officers stage a failed coup
  • 26 Mar 40: British War Cabinet debates proposal to attack Soviet oil fields

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